Count it all joy, my brothers, when you face trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
A couple of years ago, I read this verse and thought to myself, “I want to be able to face a trial that really, genuinely hurts – one that I can’t get sympathy for or brag about enduring. I want to experience a trial that makes me beg for mercy. And I want to be able to count it all joy.” Well, God hears us, friends. Please pray for me.
I once heard a pastor say that the beginning of a Christian’s life is usually pretty sporadic. As humans, our tendency is to have arbitrary, intense highs and lows based on circumstances and our own weak resolves in the face of those circumstances. You turn to Jesus, and your morale skyrockets for a while and you wonder how it’s possible that anything ever got you down. But then after a few months you realize sin still has a hold on you and you have to fight it, and you’re overcome with your own weakness, and your morale plummets. But (because you were genuinely called by Christ) you focus and pray and do battle with your sin, and – cue the applause! – you have your first victory. And so on. Kind of like …
But God gives us strength, and focus, over time. Eventually, you learn to accept and maybe even appreciate times when you’re not on a spiritual high. (A friend of mine and I recently discovered something interesting – I call these times “gray,” while she calls them “dry.” They’re the same thing, though.)
So this pastor I was listening to pointed out that, with time, hopefully, your spiritual morale starts to look a little more like …
Right now, I’m probably closer to the second image, but I’m falling a lot faster than climbing. At this very moment, I’m smack at the bottom of a pretty hard fall, and I’ve got a long climb ahead of me. But it’s reassuring at least to remember that this is normal. It hurts, but it’s not permanent.
This image is helping me. Here’s another:
This man is working very, very hard to get somewhere. He can’t see, with his eyes, where he’s going, but he knows that the world isn’t all desert. So he takes a step. And another step. And then another. And so on.
Each step is really, really, really hard. Each step feels impossible until it’s done. And the thing is, once he’s taken this impossible step, he doesn’t get to rest and have a lemonade. No one pats him on the back for it. There’s no fanfare and no applause and no pride. Because, instead, it’s time to take another step. Which feels impossible, until he’s done it.
Once this man has climbed over a dune – which feels impossible until it’s done – he sees another dune. He doesn’t get to rest and have a lemonade …
Don’t worry. I’m not going to repeat the entire spiel. The point is, each small victory is only part of a larger victory, which is only a part of another victory, until you win the final victory. But in the meantime, it pretty much all looks the same.
It’s tempting to sit down and have a rest. But (this much I know from painful experience) once he sits, man oh man, getting back up is hard. When he sits down, he runs the risk of never getting back up.
Sometimes, this is Christianity: just plodding along, even though it hurts. The world’s not all desert, though:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.